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Nanotechnology: World Council of Churches promotes UN approval required for all new technologies

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A nanotechnology report has come out from the World Council of Churches titled “Science, Faith & New Technologies: Transforming Life — Volume I: Convergent Technologies.” (PDF) The World Council of Churches is a group of organizations representing 550 million Christians worldwide. From the conclusions:

With public confidence in both private and government science at an all time low, full societal debate on nano-scale convergence is critical. It is not for scientists and governments to “educate” the public, but for society to determine the goals and processes for the technologies they finance. How can society assert democratic control over new technologies and participate in assessing research priorities?

Firstly, society must engage in a wide debate about nanotechnology and its multiple economic, health and environmental implications. Secondly, some civil society organizations have called for a moratorium on nanotech research and new commercial products until such time as laboratory protocols and regulatory regimes are in place to protect workers and consumers, and until these materials are shown to be safe. Given the regulatory vacuum and inertia by leading nano nations to act, the call for a moratorium is justified and deserves public debate…

In the coming decades, technologies converging at the nanoscale will revolutionize the design and manufacture of new materials across all industry sectors, blur the distinction between living and non-living matter, and change the very definition of what it means to be human. The challenge is to go beyond the tired and familiar approach of technocratic regulations related to “risk” and gain an innovative capacity for democratic control and assessment of science and technology.

First, I’m not sure it’s true that public confidence in science is at an all time low. Perhaps this is true in Europe, but I think scientists in the U.S. are still respected, especially compared to some other professions, such as politicians. Second, I wonder whether WCC really wants to say that it’s justified to call for a moratorium on nanotech research until the materials are shown to be safe. Sounds like research to me.

Third, note the repeated use of the term “democratic control” including “democratic control…of science”. Sounds plausible at first hearing. But democratic control means majority control, and in many countries Christians are in the minority. In other countries they are still the dominant culture but losing ground fast. Are the rights of these Christians to learn science and develop and use technologies to be determined by the majority? This may merit further thought.

As I read the report, I kept thinking “this sounds just like an ETC report,” and sure enough, there is strong ETC representation on the author list. The WCC site also has a nanotech primer…but it’s entirely by ETC. The primer’s final conclusion:

The international community must create a new United Nations body with the mandate to track, evaluate and accept or reject new technologies and their products through an International Convention on the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT).

Oh sure, this is just what we need: a UN committee to decide what new technologies and products are to be allowed worldwide. Headline: “ICENT approval delays reach 143 years”. It’s hard to imagine a worse idea.

This is not to say that we might not need some kind of international organization someday to deal with, say, nanoweapons. I expect we will. But the ETC proposal is not the way to go. The WCC might want to start looking at this whole topic in a broader way, rather than relying on one external organization so heavily. —Christine

27 Responses to “Nanotechnology: World Council of Churches promotes UN approval required for all new technologies”

  1. nanoperson Says:

    nanonuts speak once again.

  2. david foster Says:

    You’re right, of course; it’s an awful idea. But if the Democrats gain control of US politics, then, given their internationalist orientation, it’s not implausible that something like this could happen.

  3. Don Meaker Says:

    Since all criminal activities are performed by people, why not require UN approval before every child is born?

    Sure, I would trust the hand picked representatives of the 150 or so dictatorships of the world to make that kind of decision.

    Would a minister give the government a requirement to approve his sermons?

    How dull these clerical politicians are!

  4. d Says:

    wow, atlas shrugged is coming true.

  5. nbpundit Says:

    They were kidding right? The worlds most corrupt, ineffectual and wasteful body of homo
    sapiens to control nanotechnology? They can’t even keep up with their inventory of
    toilet paper, and stay current on paying their parking ticket fines yet nominated to
    control another industry? I think not. I joyfully await the day the UN goes the way of
    the League of Nations. And historically the astute know how and why that happened.

  6. David Eaton Says:

    My first inclination is to just dismiss this kind of nonsense. Not that nanoscience doesn’t warrant care- surely it does. Like any new technology.

    Imagine the response of such a body if the advent of the computer age had been accompanied by conflation of the metaphors common at the time and reality- that ‘electronic brains’ were poised to take over human thought, will and action. We should have declared a moratorium on research in the 1940s, perhaps, or maybe Charles Babbage could have used a stern talking to.

    The early days of gene manipulation stand as an excellent example- concerned scientists took the time to look carefully at what they were doing. With the exception of some GMO protests, most gene manipulation happens perfectly quietly and safely, with nary a frankenstein (if you don’t count frankenfood, which I do not) ever having escaped from the lab.

    Confidence in science was probably at a low-water mark in the last stages of the Viet Nam era, if I had to guess, but we’ve gotten past that for the most part. Sniffing members of august bodies notwithstanding, we (and they) are clearly enthusiastic consumers of science and technology. Perhaps their PDFs are only transmitted using non-GMO, organic, sustainable, fair-trade electrons…

  7. Chris Chittleborough Says:

    Correction: For “The World Council of Churches is a group of organizations representing 550 million Christians worldwide”, read “The World Council of Churches is a group of organizations which claims to represent 550 million Christians worldwide”.

    The number of Christians who agree with the WCC’s reliably hard-left stance is a small fraction of that, and is decreasing rapidly as they die off from old age.

  8. ke_future Says:

    oh. my. god. i thought the inquisition ended centuries agon. didn’t it? what in the world are these morons thinking?

  9. Kevin Murphy Says:

    Hmm … we could call them the ARM.

  10. J Maner Says:

    I thouoght they disbanded. Still as left, nuts and anti Christian as ever.

  11. Carole Newton Says:

    The World Council of Churches is not a religious organization. It is time that everyone start calling them what they are: a Communist organization. They in no way embody any Christian beliefs and haven’t in years.

  12. rabidfox Says:

    Putting the UN in charge of anything is a sure way to guarantee a perverse outcome.

  13. Casting Out Nines»Blog Archive » World Council of Churches: Let UN control technology development Says:

    [...] Here’s a fresh reason to be distrustful of the World Council of Churches (as if we needed one): they want the UN to have control the development of new technology — any technology, apparently. Specifically: [...]

  14. Worst. Idea. Ever. « Tai-Chi Policy Says:

    [...] The World Council of Churches wants new technologies to be subject to U.N. approval. I’m sure the U.N. agrees with this idea. [...]

  15. Adam Says:

    I’m disappointed that these kind of news stories keep showing up. Not to say that I appreciated you posting them, Christine. It is nice to have a heads up, as a hopeful future owner or investor in nano, as to what I might be up against in terms of social control and public perception.

    Education is the only way to combat true ignorance, and I think everyone would agree that more education is needed. But Christine brings up a good point: Educated or not, do religious organizations and international bodies, especially the UN, even have the purvue to make a decision like this? I am personally in support of a stronger UN, one capable to solving world crisis and punishing crimes against humanity. But when dealing with scientific development, I say we should leave it to the true, and not the christian, majority. Let’s let people make this decision for themselves.

  16. Kurt Says:

    This is the worse possible idea I have ever heard of. Why should I have to get the approval of some global bureaucracy in order to develop and sell my technology to anyone who wants to buy it. Also, who is it for some bureaucrat to tell me what I can and cannot spend my money on or to question my right to morphological freedom. This is simply another attempt of a particular group of people to use the corrupt force of government to impose their beliefs and their values on the rest of us.

    Many christians seem perplex as to why I am so hostile to them and their religion. This clap trap from the World Council of Churches is a perfect example of why I am hostile to them.

  17. TM Lutas Says:

    I cannot speak to the world but my confidence in scientists is pretty low these days. I find more and more people who have the official credentials willing to attack, defund, and otherwise use nonscientific tools to discredit and destroy their rivals.

    So long as scientists do science, I have the highest respect for them. It’s a demanding discipline, the scientific method. But as scientists become political or accede to their professional bodies and journals becoming political they utterly lose my respect.

  18. Jesus Says:

    Man you guys are reactionary…

    I see nothing wrong with citizens of a country wanting democratic input on TAXPAYER funded research in universaries which is what they are discussing.

    But maybe we should wait until after gray goo self replicates the entire planet and then we can debate it from inside their nano “stomaches”?

    Bleh… a pox on you!

  19. John Novak Says:

    Leaving aside any mention of the UN, and independent of left- and right- oriented politics (according to the typical US definitions) let me make the following point:

    Be very wary of groups trying to peddle the notion that there must be broadbased debate and democratic action before the development and deployment of this- that- or the other. TYpically, these groups want anything but, and directly and willfully bend the terms out of their historical and legal context. Democracy generally means majority rule, but if you scratch the surface on these groups, you’ll find that the details are usually calling for effective unanimity– the idea is that the debate has to end before we do things, and the debate is never ended as long as someone, somewhere, is vocally objecting. These objections can be maintained indefinitely.

    This is becoming a standard tactic for many political groups on both the right (stem cells) and the left (genetic modifications to food.)

  20. Adam Says:


    I’ve been reading this feed for a few months now. This article is the first I’ve seen to garner such heated responses from readers. I would almost venture to label a few of those responses as flame-bait.

    Personally, I enjoy reading the opinions of others. I understand you have no control over the news that happens in the “nanosphere.” However, I’m curious if other similar articles have elicited had similar responses. If so, would you agree that we’re straying away from discussion of the ethical merits of nanotechnology? Certainly things can be said about the UN or WCC, but on the Foresight forums those comments hardly seem relevant.

    If you refer back to the discussion about a Nano hazard label, that discussion was both relevant and informative. I think that’s where we should focus our energies, rather than turning this into a politically polarized you-tube blog (maybe that was flame-bait too?) I enjoy these discussions and would hate to see them lose direction because of a few politically driven comments.

    What do you think?

  21. Abelard Says:

    The World Council of Churches has nothing to do with Christianity. It is a crypto-liberal-internationalist organization. Please do not confuse this statement with Christian ethics. The Christian position on any new technology depends on whether it improves the quality of peoples lives. (This is not the same as whether it improves the economy). It is not possible to take such a stance across such a broad field as nanotechnology, and even if it was, it is well known that bureaucracies are not effective regulators, and the UN is a particularaly corrupt example of the species.

  22. Christine Peterson Says:

    Adam — Don’t be too concerned with the political comments on this post. They are unusual; I think they are from readers of a more political blog who linked to this item. –Christine

  23. drakel55 Says:

    What is wrong with the WCC, all they are trying to do is turn the world back into the dark ages. How long until they want to make another comitee to decide wherther to disband certain types of technology.Hopefully the UN relizes this is craziness and stops it in it’s tracks.

  24. Jaydee Hanson Says:


    I was at the World Council of Churches’ meeting in February 2007 that approved this document. I can not imagine that you would allow to be posted language about other groups that essentially amounts to hate speech. I find it cowardly that the respondents do not post their names. I have represented the United Methodist Church on several World Council of Churches taskforces. The level of ethical and religious reflection has been quite high. The council takes seriously the views of its many different faith groups ranging from Orthodox churches to Quaker groups. I don’t believe that Communist groups start and end every meeting with prayer and work hard to debate the theological and ethical implications of their policy. The council has sent representatives to the various meetings of the United Nations since the UN’s inception, so it is not surprising that the Council would support UN regulation of nanotechnologies.

    Jaydee Hanson, Director for Human Genetics and Nanotechnology Policy, International Center for Technology Assessment

  25. Christine Peterson Says:

    Hi Jaydee — Thanks for commenting. I agree that it would be better if people signed their comments with their real names. As I mention above, the comments on this post are unusual for Nanodot.

    One reason to post the more strongly-worded comments is that we all need to know that there are people who apparently feel very strongly on this issue. I had no idea that WCC was so controversial in some circles, and I bet many Nanodot readers also did not know this.

    I would be interested in hearing your response to the original post. —Christine

  26. Jaydee Hanson Says:

    One of the joys of attending World Council Fora on science and technology is that so many of the participants are well informed on both the science and ethics of the issues. It is clear to me that most other countries do not share the high trust in science that we have in the US. But I think this is changing in the US, too. As various parts of science become seen as a part of an industry, the trust the public has in them is declining. The recent scandal in Washington wherein a regulator and a guardian of the public’s funds actually stole human tissues and gave them to a drug company that he was consulting for is the kind of thing that diminishes public trust. When the NIH insists that it scientists need weaker conflict of interest standards than members of Congress, that diminishes public trust in science. It is not surprising that at the same time, that the trust of non-governmental groups related to the environment is increasing in the religious community. A recent Pew Poll found the even white evangelicals–a rather conservative group, more than half of them support environmentalists. Among Catholics the support is 70 percent, higher than the 63 percent support from the general public.

    The support of the WCC for democratic governance of science does not mean some odd majority takes all vote and Christians would be excluded, but rather than the world council thinks that democratic reasoning together is a better way to regulate science than letting scientists with an economic interest in their work regulate themselves.

    Finally, I don’t think the Council means to call for a moratorium on all nanotech research, but rather that research intended to commercialize nano products before safety is established.

  27. Christine Peterson Says:

    Hi Jaydee — About your last point: to me it just doesn’t make sense to call for a moratorium on research. Research is how we establish safety. One does not commercialize a product via research; commercialization is a different process. Thanks for participating! —Christine

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